I come from a family of non-drinkers. Christmas day pairings in my parents’ house consist of flavoured mineral water for my sister in law, cola for my dad and brother, and constant negotiation over the latter with my small nephews. Because I like wine, Mum will start scoping the shopper-docket deals in the lead up, and splurge on a 2 for $15 bargain.
The food is no different. Mine is a family of picky eaters. Pre-sliced, sandwich ham from the supermarket, and a cold roast chicken will cause fights over the breast meat. Potato salad; well, boiled potato slicked with low fat mayonnaise, holds pride of place on the table. One year there was frozen lasagne because Master 3 was in his Italian phase.
This year, thanks to the constant threat of border restrictions, I am not going to be home for Christmas.
Cue the Christmas feast of my dreams!
But I am not qualified to curate a Christmas feast, having no innate knowledge of the components. I needed help. I asked the folk of Instagram for some Aussie Christmas classics and boy did they deliver.
It’s not all about the British influence. Some festive tables are filled with curries or stir-fries, so let’s start there. Chilli heat in food can make red wine with lots of tannin taste bitter. Look for softer fruitier reds like pinot noir or grenache – our Grenache Shootout winner Zonte’s Footstep Love Symbol would work a treat.
Whites are more flexible but something with a bit of sweetness like an off-dry riesling is particularly good – Pikes Olga Emmie Riesling is noticeably sweet but with zesty acidity to keep it fresh. Or for something a bit different, one of my favourite varieties is gewurztraminer. It’s divisive because it is so aromatic; but if you love the scent of rose petals and lychees wafting from a glass, then this beauty is your queen. Try the Toppers Mountain Gewurztraminer.
Of course it’s also Hannukah time of year which means Latkes – fried potato pancakes – serving as a vehicle for smoked salmon and sour cream. Wines with high acidity will help balance this ultra rich dish in the same way a squeeze of lemon is a delight on fish and chips. For something a bit special try an aged riesling, such as Pewsey Vale The Contours Museum Release 2014. Time in bottle allows the pure citrus flavours to evolve into lemon butter, toast and honey.
Back to Aussie Christmas fare. Prawn cocktails are not just visions from garish eighties cookbooks, they are making a comeback (and we are so glad)! Crunchy slivers of iceberg lettuce, plump prawns and a drizzle of Marie Rose sauce. Oates Ends Sauvignon Blanc Semillon from Margaret River offers tropical fruit balanced by savoury, herbal, citrus complexity. A pairing like that will make Nanna realise the errors of her Moselle misspent youth.
Why do we only eat glazed ham at Christmas? Surely even 2020 could have turned out better had we eaten more ham?! Salty, caramelised, umami rich slices of tender meat are elevated by the delicate red fruits and spice of a dry rosé. For a more savoury style that can entice both red and white wine lovers, try the Mitolo Jester Rosé.
I’m going to be a bit controversial here and group the roasts together. This is the part of the meal where personal preferences come into play big time. Hate white wine? You don’t want to be coerced into a glass of chardonnay with roast chicken (although this is a match made in heaven). Can’t handle red? It’s perfectly OK to sip a white wine with red meat. This is your dinner after all. So be it chicken, duck, turkey (or all three at once – turducken style), beef, pork, or lamb; here are some crowd pleasers to keep the conversation flowing. White wine fans will relish Ottelia Pinot Gris for something pretty and light, Pacha Mama Chardonnay for elegant fruit and delicate oak; or Michael hall Sang de Pigeon Blanc for a full-bodied flavour bomb. Red wine lovers will fall for Robert Oatley Signature Series Yarra Valley Pinot Noir with its complex fruit and earthy spice; Cirillo Estate The Vincent Grenache for that classic rich Barossan style; or Parker Coonawarra Estate Terra Rossa Cabernet Sauvignon, a bold, structured wine to sate tannin fiends.
Vegetarian households seem to embrace Italian flavours for Christmas. Eggplant Parmigiana or Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni are certainly showstoppers on any table. To continue the theme why not try an Italian varietal grown in Australia. Bremerton Special Release Fiano is like a richer pinot grigio with ripe stone fruit and a hint of nuttiness. Or montepulciano is the ultimate taverna red. For luscious black fruit, sweet baking spices and savoury fennel flavours, After Five Wine Co. Single Vineyard Montepulciano will charm.
Don’t forget the non-drinkers or designated drivers. And I’m not talking about an esky full of soft drink. Step it up with something a little bit fancy from the growing range of non-alcoholic options for grown-ups. Lyre’s Aperitif Rosso is made by distilling natural ingredients and is completely alcohol free. Add ice, soda and a slice of blood orange for an enchanting drink that is guaranteed to make everyone feel included. Bonus points for buying them a bottle for their Christmas stocking.